December 1, 2009

Amy Goodman weighed in on Democracy Now about her detention at the Canadian border and what it might mean for assuring that there is still a free press in Canada and that journalists are not intimidated into not covering stories that the government thinks are harmful to corporate interests.

Full segment and transcript available at Democracy Now.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That report from Kathy Tomlinson of CBC. But, Amy—Thanksgiving—tell us more about exactly what happened when you were stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, it was really incredible. It was Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving, and we’re headed to the Vancouver Public Library, driving up from Seattle. When we got to the border, I thought it was just going to be routine. We handed in our passports. They stopped for a minute, and they flagged us. They told us to pull over, and it’s pouring rain outside. We pulled the vehicle over. We had to get out and go into the facility.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you were there with Dennis—

AMY GOODMAN: With Dennis Moynihan and with Chuck Scurich. We’re on our Breaking the Sound Barrier tour. And while folks here were eating turkey, we thought we’d go “talk turkey” in Vancouver and talk about the columns in Breaking the Sound Barrier with Canadian listeners to Democracy Now!. Three community radio stations in Vancouver run Democracy Now!

So, we pulled in, went into the border facility. It’s a large hangar-like space. And they start going through our car, but we’re now inside. And then the border patrol call me up to the counter. And the guard—

JUAN GONZALEZ: And obviously, to cross into Canada, people don’t need visas, they just—

AMY GOODMAN: No, that’s right.

JUAN GONZALEZ:—need to show identification.

AMY GOODMAN: You need your passport. And we were very surprised. It was almost empty, this whole hangar, so we were clearly singled out.

And I go up to the counter, and the guard says, “I want your notes.”

I said, “My notes?”

He said, “The notes for the talk tonight.”

I was completely taken aback. I went out to the car, and I brought in the copy of Breaking the Sound Barrier. And I came in, and I said, “Well, this is my new book, and it’s a book of columns. So I actually read from the columns.”

He said, “I want the notes.”

I said, “Well, these you can think of as my notes.”

And he said, “What are you talking about?”

And I said, “Well, I actually start with the last column, which is a column”—as I was saying in this report to Kathy Tomlinson—“about Tommy Douglas.”

Now, for people in the United States, he’s not as famous a name. But in Canada, he’s considered the greatest Canadian. Tommy Douglas is the Premier—was the Premier of Saskatchewan who brought, who pioneered the Canadian national health care system. And, interestingly, he’s the grandfather of the actor Kiefer Sutherland, right? Kiefer Sutherland’s mother is Shirley Douglas, the actress; his father, Donald Sutherland. But his grandfather was Tommy Douglas.

And, so I said, “I’ll be talking about Tommy Douglas.” Actually we were at the Douglas border crossing.

And he said, “What else?”

I said, “What else? Well, global warming.”

“What else?” he said.

I said, “The global economic meltdown.”

“What else?” he said.

I said, “Well, I’ll also be talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“What else are you talking about?” he said. And—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, is it your sense that this was some rogue customs agent or that he had basically been alerted—

AMY GOODMAN: There with another—

JUAN GONZALEZ:—and had gotten instructions to do this kind of questioning?

AMY GOODMAN: He was working with a group of customs agents, with the border guard. I mean, they’re armed. Another border guard now has the book, and he’s reading it. But they’re also inputting everything I say. This border guard is handwriting all notes about what I say. And then the other border guard is going to the computer and inputting everything.

Then, they say, “What else?”

And I say, “That’s about it.”

And he says, “What about the Olympics?”

I said, “The Olympics? You mean when President Obama went to Copenhagen to push for the Olympics to come to Chicago?”

And he said, “And you didn’t get them.”

I said, “I know we didn’t get them.”

He said, “No, I’m talking about the Olympics here in 2010, in Canada.”

I said, “No, I hadn’t planned to talk about the Olympics.

“You’re denying that you’re talking about the Olympics.”—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Did you even know there’s an Olympics in 2010 in Canada?

AMY GOODMAN: This was not my topic, right? This is not so much news in the United States.

I really didn’t know what he was referring to. And he kept pushing. He was clearly incredulous. And at my surprise, he disbelieved me even further. He clearly did not think I was telling the truth. He kept pushing, “You’re denying you’re talking about the Olympics?” I said, “That wasn’t my plan for tonight.”

Of course, as the reporter had asked me, “And what if you said yes. What would have happened then?”

Anyway, he finally tells me to sit down. And they go out and they combed through the car. I got very alarmed at what was happening, and I walked outside to where the guards were going through the car. One is on my colleague’s computer, as if it was his. You know, he’s just—the computer was set up and he was going through it. They were rifling through the papers and everything. They told me to get back inside. I went back inside.

Finally they came in. We’re now over an hour and a half late to the talk. And they say for me to follow them into a back room. I go with them into a back room—the border guards—and they take my picture. They make four copies of the picture. They take Dennis and Chuck’s pictures. Individually, one by one, they take us in the back, one by one.

And then they attached them to what they called a control document. I said, “I wasn’t aware we needed a visa.” And they said, “These are control documents.” And they stapled them into each of our passports. And I opened it, and it said—the control document—that we had to leave by Friday. We were coming in on Wednesday—that we had to leave by Friday.

Then we were allowed to leave. We saw they had been through both of my colleagues computers, both Dennis and Chuck’s computers. I don’t know if they had gone into mine. And they had gone through the car. And we eventually arrived an hour and a half late to the talk.


AMY GOODMAN: To say the least, it was—

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is from our friendly Canadian neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, this was, to say the least, extremely jarring. I felt completely violated, I mean, personally and professionally. You know, and for journalism overall. Because this is not only a violation of freedom of the press, you know, the idea that, you know, the state is going into your papers, your documents, your sources, everything—but also a violation of the public’s right to know. Because if journalists feel there are things they can’t report on, that they’ll be detained, that they’ll be arrested, or they’ll be questioned, they’ll be interrogated; this is a threat to the free flow of information. And that’s the public’s loss, that’s democracy’s loss.

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